How To Clean Your Vacuum

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Cleaning your home thoroughly without a vacuum cleaner is hard to even imagine. But did you know that cleaning your vacuum itself should be an important part of any housecleaning routine?

Why Clean Your Vacuum?

Although cleaning your vacuum may just seem like just one more chore to add to your already busy schedule, it actually will help save you time and money in the long run. Here's why:

  • Suction: A vacuum with dirty filters, a full bag or a full container looses suction and doesn't clean properly.
  • Efficiency: A dirty vacuum has to work much harder to clean, causing wear and tear on the motor and shortening the life of the appliance.
  • Clog prevention: Dirty vacuums are prone to clogging, which can cause the motor and other vacuum parts to burn out or malfunction.
  • Odor: Dirty vacuums tend to spread a nasty odor through your home when you're trying to clean.

Safety First

Although danger doesn't immediately come to mind when you think about cleaning your vacuum, safety is still an important concern. Since a vacuum is an electrical appliance, be sure to unplug it before you start cleaning it. If it turned on unexpectedly while your hands were inside, it could injure you. In addition, cleaning a vacuum while it's plugged in is a shock hazard.

Dealing With Dirt Containers

Vacuums pick up lots of dirt, so one of the first areas to address is the bag or plastic container that stores it all:

  • Bag vacuums: Even if your bag is only 1/3 full, the suction on your vacuum may be compromised! Check your bag regularly by feeling how full it is with your hands. Change the bag as soon as debris reaches the "fill" line recommended by your manufacturer. You may also want to wipe any dust or dirt from surrounding areas at this time.
  • Bagless vacuums: As soon as dirt in the collection container reaches the manufacturer's fill line, dump out the container. This could be as often as every time you vacuum, or for a particularly dirty space, after cleaning a single room. Wash the plastic container with mild soapy water every week or so and allow to dry completely before putting it back in the vacuum.

Hoses & Attachments

Although it doesn't happen often, large pieces of dirt or debris can get stuck in hoses and attachment tools, creating obstructions. To keep these vacuum parts clean:

  • Check these parts periodically for obstructions.
  • Clogs in small attachment tools can often be removed with your fingers.
  • To clear obstructions in hoses, gently push a broomstick through the hose.
  • If you use a wire hanger to remove hose obstructions, use extreme care as wire could puncture your hoses.
  • Take care not to pack clogs in tighter.

Keeping Filters Clean

Even though the rest of your vacuum may look pristine, if your filters are dirty, your vacuum cleaner is in trouble and straining to do its job. To keep your vacuum at its best, clean your filters after every three to four uses:

  • Before getting started, check your owner's manual for specific filter cleaning instructions.
  • Remove each filter near a garbage can and shake loose dust and debris into the can. Peel off additional loose heavy debris gently with your hands and discard.
  • If a filter is washable according to manufacturer's instructions, rinse it gently under running water. Don't use any brushes or abrasive cleaners as this may damage the filter.
  • Air-dry filters completely before putting them back in your vacuum.

Even with the best care, washable vacuum filters don't last forever. Expect to replace yours every three to six months.

Roller Brush & Belts

To keep your vacuum in top running order, you'll need to maintain your roller brush and belts. To do this:

  1. Check the brush roll (also called the beater bar) underneath your vacuum regularly. If it's tangled up with thread, hair and other materials, you'll need to clean it.
  2. Remove the bottom plate over the roll, being careful not to lose any screws that were holding it in place.
  3. Carefully remove the roller brush.
  4. Remove anything tangled around the brush roll, using scissors to cut out hair and thread if necessary.
  5. Spin the brush. If it doesn't spin freely, remove the cap ends so you can clean out any debris around the bearings, lubricate them or replace them if necessary.
  6. Check the belt around the brush bar for wear. If it's torn, cracked, melted or stretched, replace it. You'll need to remove the brush bar as you did for cleaning, and slide the belt old belt off to make room for a new one.
  7. If the belt is in good condition, insure that it's placed properly and adjust placement if necessary.
  8. Belts should be replaced every six months to a year, depending on how often you use your vacuum.

Dealing With Stubborn Odors

Sometimes, no matter how carefully you clean your vacuum cleaner, it still develops an unpleasant odor. These tips will help keep your vacuum smelling fresh:

  • Sprinkle orange extract, vanilla extract or almond extract on small pieces of paper towels or tiny cotton balls and then vacuum it all up.
  • Sprinkle some borax or baking soda on your floor from time to time and then vacuum it up.
  • Put a sheet of fabric softener, coffee beans, dried citrus peel or some powdered laundry detergent in your vacuum bag or plastic dirt container.
  • Sprinkle a pleasant smelling spice such as allspice, cardamom, ginger or cinnamon on your floor and vacuum it up. Avoid using dark colored spices on light carpets as this may stain.

You'll be glad you took the time to clean and maintain your vacuum cleaner when it rewards you with years of reliable performance.

Last Updated: August 12, 2012
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About Roberta Pescow Roberta Pescow holds a bachelor's degree in communications from City University of New York, Queens College and is a freelance writer and editor in the NJ area. The author of "A Life In The Service" and "A Monster's Tears," she enjoys writing informative articles, personal essays, fiction and music.  Roberta is a proud mother of two. Her other interests include fitness, photography, sculpture and meditation. She is a voracious reader and holds a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do. Roberta enjoys decorating her hectic, but happy home and garden in original and affordable ways.  

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